With the Modi government riding a landslide to return to Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha was where the Opposition hoped to counter it with its greater numbers. But that Opposition unity lay in tatters Tuesday — the second time in a week following the passage of the RTI amendment Bill — when the BJP-led government, with some astute political manoeuvering that started a week ago, ensured the passage of the instant triple talaq Bill in the Upper House.
As many as 23 Opposition members — 4 Congress, 6 SP, 4 BSP, 2 NCP, 2 TDP, 2 PDP, 1 DMK, 1 CPM and 1 TMC — were not present in the House. This apart, the JD (U), AIADMK and TRS with a total of 23 members were also missing at the time of voting. The Opposition motion to refer The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019 to a Select Committee was negated 84-100, and the Bill was passed 99-84.
In the House of 245 where five vacant seats have reduced the strength to 240, 184 members voted. That’s 56 abstentions. While the government’s floor managers had been in touch with the AIADMK, TRS and JD(U), what swung the day for them was the absence of 23 Opposition members.
Congress members who were absent during the voting were Partap Singh Bajwa, Ranjib Biswal, Mukut Mithi and Vivek Tankha besides Sanjay Sinh who resigned during the day. His resignation was immediately accepted. NCP chief Sharad Pawar and former Union Minister Praful Patel too were not present. DMK member R S Bharathi and CPM’s Jharna Das Baidya were absent and so were all four BSP MPs — Satish Chandra Mishra, Rajaram, Veer Singh and Ashok Siddharth.
SP sources said three of their members — Tazeen Fatma, Sanjay Seth and Beni Prasad Verma — have health issues. The other SP MPs who were not present were Sukhram Yadav, Chandrapal Yadav and Surendra Singh Nagar. Fatma is the wife of SP Lok Sabha MP Azam Khan.
The two PDP members, Mir Mohammad Fayaz and Nazir Ahmad Laway, were also present in the evening though both had spoken against the Bill.
Following the passage of the Bill, Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien voiced the Opposition angst when he said: “This is not floor management. It’s the not-so-invisible but most dependable allies of the BJP: CBI and ED.”
Both TDP MPs, Ravindra Kumar Kanakamedala and Thota Seetharama Lakshmi, were absent when the Bill was put to vote. Hours earlier, Kanakamedala had participated in the debate. Trinamool MP K D Singh too was absent but party leaders said the fact that Ritabrata Banerjee voted against the Bill made up for the absence.
BJP sources said the victory was a “result of a strategy which was meticulously planned and carefully laid down” over a week. Party president Amit Shah had given the responsibility of organising the numbers to Bhupender Yadav, Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan and Pralhad Joshi. On the day of the voting, the coordination task was carried out by V Muraleedharan.
After ensuring the maximum presence of 78 party members, BJP leaders, sources said, did a “man-to-man” marking of the MPs in the House. “We counted everyone, assessed possible abstentions and approached them. The biggest advantage for us was the overconfidence among Opposition leaders who did not bother to ensure that every member is present,” a party leader said.
“We had been working on the plan but kept it under wraps till we were sure about the numbers. The party leadership had decided that the Bill should get cleared by Parliament this session,” a minister said.
On Tuesday morning, at the BJP parliamentary party meeting, Shah had hinted at it. Emphasising the need for MPs to be present in the House during discussions and voting on Bills, especially in the wake of the Opposition pressing for division of votes, Shah told his party members that he wanted them to ensure every Bill is passed with clear majority.
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